Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Much Against Everyone's advice

Sometimes bands and artistes do things they really shouldn't. Sometimes it might seem like a good idea, but in practice, it isn't so. An example (that would allow Abstractboy to show off) would be Madonna at Wembley Arena when she slaughtered covered John Lennon's untouchable "Imagine". How could it ever come across as sincere when Madonna sings "Imagine no posessions" as the 12000 punters paying £150 a head to witness this sing along with their arms in there (Abstractboy and yorkpete paid £50, it should be noted). Some songs should just not be covered. Madonna's problem is finding songs that are more anthemic than her own, but really, it'd be much less embarressing to cover Rachel Stevens' "Some Girls", or something.

But now to the point. Soulwax were once a very great indie band. Back in the distant days of 2001, when the Strokes and the Moldy Peaches were still playing oversized public toilets together in Camden and Fischerspooner were puting on £1million shows in New York and a bootleg was a cut of jeans or a crappy recording of a gig (also found in Camden), Soulwax released a corker of an indie-dance hybrid album, by the name of Much Against Everyone's Advice. It was edgy, dancey, punky and suitably Euroenglish. Abstractboy even had his first underage drink in a pub (Camden Barfly) with Soulwax on the jukebox. Then they disappeared for a bit and came back in the guise of 2manyDJs - creating exciting, eclectic, and arguably groundbreaking mixes and DJ sets. Soon the name Soulwax was only associated with the popular DJ sets and DJing took priority over any Soulwax duties. Fast forward to 2004: 2manyDJs are more popular than ever, but Soulwax have re-banded and recorded a new album by the name of Any Minute Now. They are even playing live as a band again.

In fact, Abstractboy saw them at their showcase at the Scala. He was very excited, having not seen them in 2001. The set was undeniably cool - a black and white striped piece of fabric covered the stage and acted as a backdrop. It was awfully mesmerising. But the set was a pitiful 45 minutes. They played three songs from MAEA and the new material just isn't as interesting. All of the music press had given it 5/10, 2/5 type reviews, suggesting that they stuck to the DJ job, but Abstractboy wanted to see them live before he made up his mind. And sadly, they disappointed. Any Minute Now just seems to lack any personality. There is a lot of potential with some garage-rock tracks and some tracks that have heavy synth and a dancey vibe, but there is no spark to carry it all off. Their performance was generally sparkless. They looked like people who would rather be somewhere else, probably DJ decks. And the new songs sound like they were written by people who would rather have been doing something else. It's all a bit sad really, but 2001 will always be a magical place in Abstractboy's heart. And 2manyDJs are still fun. So it isn't the end of the world. Just a little disappointing when you look forward to something for so long and by the time it actually arrives, it no longer seems relevant.

posted by Robbie de Santos at 8/25/2004 01:12:00 am 0 comments

(No) People in the City

Abstractboy likes very little more than a walk through the City on a Sunday morning.

Followed by a walk through the City as the sun is setting.

(Day trip to Southend-on-Sea courtesy of the Evening Standard and C2C trains optional)

posted by Robbie de Santos at 8/25/2004 12:59:00 am 0 comments

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Hot Topic

Hooray! Le Tigre will be doing a PA at Popstarz in October. This is good news for Le Tigre fans, because it basically means they can see one of the most influential of feminist/ left-wing bands in recent years for free if they get there early enough. This, however, raises a debate that Abstractboy has been having with his friends recently with regards to the London “alternative” gay scene (or rather the mainstream alternative gay scene). Confused?

Popstarz is London’s Biggest Queer Alternative. You know this as soon as you have bought your “2-4-1 drinks B4 11” – there are projections all over the main room proclaiming this fact. But the discerning punter may question the extent to which Popstarz and Thursday night club, Miss-Shapes, really are an alternative to what we consider the mainstream gay scene, which leads on to further questions regarding the role of such a scene and so on. When Abstractboy first moved to London he was very excited about the prospect of gay clubs that would actually play “decent” music, having grown up in Edinburgh where there is only one scene as such. Popstarz seemed perfect – they played a lot of bands he loved and did not expect to hear ordinarily in a gay club. Popstarz became the regular Friday night engagement. But slowly it dawned on everyone that the music policy at even the biggest queer alternative was formulaic and unchallenging – the real leftfield artists would be played in the first hour when the main room is always infamously empty, and there is very little variation in the songs played from night to night. On the whole, it is fair to say that Popstarz is geared at a mass appeal, and with the inclusion of a rubbish room (80s and 90s cheese pop) and an R’n’B lounge, it is essentially a catch-all club, and certainly doesn’t feel like that much of an alternative to the gay scene.

You are probably now thinking “Isn’t Abstractboy an elitist swine!” and you probably wouldn’t be wrong, but that isn’t the point. The point is that to the majority of the clientele, Le Tigre will only mean “That Song They Play After The Second Peaches Song” (Deceptacon). The political messages of Le Tigre will fairly certainly float over the consciousness of the majority of the Popstarz crowd, which surely defeats the point of a Le Tigre performance. The problem isn’t necessarily that the people don’t get it, rather that it seems Popstarz have ideas above their own station for what to expect of their present clientele. Abstractboy feels that Popstarz is now just another gay Friday night affair – it isn’t about an indie music policy (take the permanently crowded “Rubbish Room” for example) or making a real stand against the over-commercial and corporate mainstream scene.

Then again, the point of a PA is also for the band to promote themselves, and so Le Tigre will hope to find new fans in the crowd. And considering they are a band that promotes gay rights, they should hopefully strike a chord with the audience. However, Abstractboy is more interested in the concept of the gay indie club. As an indie kid who also happens to be gay, Abstractboy prefers to go indie clubs that don’t necessarily affiliate to a certain sexuality and have a music policy that is more…challenging?! But this is obviously not the case for everyone, and for people of a similar disposition it can be a great way to meet similar people. Abstractboy met his wonderful indie boyfriend in Popstarz, and so can never really dismiss indie gay clubs as a farcical concept. And Popstarz and Miss-Shapes are still fun nights out when done less frequently. But if you do not have a huge desire to meet new lovers/ pulls/ polysexual partners and you like la musique alternative, a night at White Heat or the Metro Club will be far more interesting in terms of music. While clearly there is still a need for the gay indie club, London offers such a range of decent indie clubs that to keep the real indie kids coming, they will have to tune in and tune up to the sound of the underground. Or not. Who knows?

posted by Robbie de Santos at 8/05/2004 04:07:00 pm 0 comments

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The states sleep alone tonight

There is very little better than precocious male singer-songwriter talent. See Bright Eyes, Rufus Wainwright, or Patrick Wolf for example. Don’t buy Dashboard Confessional records. The good news is that Abstractboy has been lucky enough to catch a very, very precociously talented duo at a recent Homocrime night at the Needles, W1. They go by the name of Sleeping States, and comprise of Markland Starkie and Craig Gell. Markland writes most of the lyrics and music and Craig plays the guitar (although Markland does that too) and creates all of the interesting and haunting feedback sounds which are significant to the overall sound of Sleeping States. The general sound is stripped and lo-fi, plucked clean guitar, naked and honest vocals with slight reverb effects, changes of keys, sometimes even discord…the guitar part almost feels like it is taking the listener on a car journey, but in a good way. It is hard not to be affected by the songs when the lyrics and vocals carry such a genuine sense of feeling.

Markland also has a nice prominent English accent. Abstractboy has come to realise over the years that being able to hear an accent in a singer’s voice makes the whole effect of a vocal seem more interesting, whether it is everyone’s favourite Russian chipmunks (t.A.T.u) or Roddy Woomble’s nice Edinburgh twangs. It’s really a bit of a shame when singers try to sound American or put on a fake cockney accent (Damon Albarn, we mean you) because an accent says so much about where you come from or where you have lived, which will inevitably have some impact upon the sound of your music and the experiences which inspire you to write.

Anyway, Sleeping States are very good and especially worth listening to (mp3s are on their website) if you appreciate low-key, beautifully haunting male singer-songwriter music. A huge Thank You is due to yorkpete for kindly allowing Abstractboy to use his photo.

posted by Robbie de Santos at 8/03/2004 03:19:00 pm 1 comments

Monday, August 02, 2004

Show me the ‘light!

Razorlight are one of the best new British bands. Fact. Their recent (and top 3) ‘Up All Night” album is the indie album of the summer. Abstractboy wasn’t sure whether the Killers (see earlier rave) album would steal this position, but on acquiring an advance copy of the Razorlight album a month prior to its release (and thank God for that, as he would otherwise have had to wait til the end of the trip!), Abstractboy knew that “Up All Night” had that raw and undeniable soul that it was becoming more and more apparent that the Killers lacked. Jonny Borrell’s voice is gravely at times, world-wise, travelled, expressive, and most importantly, thickly London. The songs, particularly album highlight “Don’t go back to Dalston”, remind Abstractboy of London - why he loves it, why it is still exciting to live here. Live Borrel improvises with lyrics about Abstractboy’s chief bus route – the infamously packed 29 – talks about the areas which he sees daily. It just feels so relevant. But there is an overwhelming pop (of the perfect variety) sensibility that is apparent throughout. Razorlight know a good melody, a good chorus, a good vocal arrangement, even if it most likely isn’t written to a formula or by Cathy Dennis and Karen Poole. And that is perhaps what has made “Up All Night” one of the best albums this year.

It’s really quite hard to fathom how big they have actually become. Abstractboy remembers seeing Razorlight at Rough Trade with 25 other people in January, and now they have sold out the Astoria twice over and are booked in at 4500 capacity Brixton Academy. It will be interesting to see if the energy that their earlier gigs for which they were famed is as strong in the bigger venues. But 2004 has been a big year for indie bands breaking through. The Killers, Hope of the States, Franz Ferdinand, Razorlight, Delays and Keane have all had amazing success so far- most of whom started off the year playing 100 Club, the Camden Barfly or ULU and are selling out Brixton Academy three times over (see Keane) or are becoming one of the most successful British bands in America (see Franz Ferdinand). A mixture of factors seem to have caused this. Firstly, record companies seem more prepared to invest large sums in publicising an up and coming indie band. Take Franz Ferdinand for example – every street corner in Britain had an advert for “Take Me Out”, the singles were on sale at 99p in the first week – there was no way of avoiding them. The Killers had similarly large sums spent on them – huge grassroots campaigns and media coverage from Attitude to CD:UK to MetalHammer to Jools Holland to Smash Hits.

But it may be that the bands that are making it big now are actually getting it right – they are making genuinely good music that is soulful, honest, genuine, but not contrived or manufactured in the hit-factories that dominated late nineties and early noughties charts. It doesn’t make Abstractboy cringe to see these bands get big and attract a wider crowd like it does when he sees the fat 35 year old blonde slag at the club dancing to the Darkness and thinking she is a rock chick extraordinaire because she owns “Permission to Land” and bought tickets off eBay to see them at the Apollo for £80 a head. It’s encouraging for the future of the indie scene in Britain to see such fresh talent that has an obvious durability really impacting on the musical landscape of 2004. Let us hope that the next batch of new up-and-coming indie bands (see the Departure or New Rhodes) will receive the same support and achieve a similarly deserved success as the cream of 2004 so far.

posted by Robbie de Santos at 8/02/2004 02:01:00 pm 0 comments

Abstractboy is now at the end of his travels. He is now settled into his new London residence and though he is yet to find employment for the rest of the summer, everything else seems to be going smoothly. So it is really time for this to stop being a travel log and resume its earlier role as a channel of opinion on new music, lahndahn, popular culture, interesting sociological trends and whatever else takes the fancy of Abstractboy. But we have a few little loose ends to tie up.

Athens. Athens was great. Abstractboy did have some preconceptions on what to expect from Athens. Every traveller that he and ben had met on their travels had mentioned the Olympics, how dirty and smoggy it is, and how it is best not to spend more than a few days there. They were wrong. All of them. Or maybe Abstractboy saw a side of Athens that the average backpacker did not see. ‘High Class Athens” as the locals call it. Abstractboy stayed in the uber affluent suburb of Kifissia, where there are wide palm treed avenues, open top cars, Louis Vuitton and Gucci boutiques, and lots and lots of posers. It felt like what you would imagine Beverly Hills to be like – vacuous, expensively stylish, but satisfying in a shallow way. They attended exclusive beach parties, ate in lovely tavernas, drunk in the yacht club and even managed a day of lounging around on the beach of Marathon (26 miles from Athens incidentally). But aside from that they saw the Parthenon which was just awe inspiring. It may be in a slightly weathered state, but to think that it has been there since 400BC is just truly amazing. Abstractboy has taken a large interest in everything Ancient-Greek for 10 years, and to finally see the symbolic glory of the ancient civilisation was almost life-affirming.

The more slow-paced and relaxing stay in Athens was the perfect way to end the perfectly planned trip. Looking back on the whole thing, Abstractboy is filled with a sense of pride at having pulled it all off – to have seen so much, experienced the unimaginable, and survived every obstacle and jumped every fence on the track. A guide to successful inter-railing is in the pipeline and will be available in all good bookstores before you start planning your next trip. Yessur!

posted by Robbie de Santos at 8/02/2004 01:58:00 pm 0 comments

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